Thursday 26 April 2018

'The Equalizer' - 'Denzel Washington is a magnificent actor and film's undeniable entertainment value is largely down to him'

Paul Whitington

The Equalizer, 16, 131 minutes, starring Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, director Antoine Fuqua.

***

Not all of you will remember the 1980s TV show on which this film is based. The Equalizer had its passionate fans, and tended to be shown late at night: it starred Edward Woodward as a former covert US intelligence agent who attempts to atone for his many and unspecified sins by offering himself out as a gun for hire to desperate citizens.

An angel of vengeance who could be contacted through an anonymous newspaper advertisement, McCall haunted the streets of Manhattan by night, visiting rough justice on murderers, rapists, drug dealers and other "truly deserving" victims. The show's simple format made you feel good about violent revenge, even though you knew deep down it was probably wrong.

This movie adaptation has been knocking around for a good few years now, and at one point Russell Crowe and Canadian director Paul Haggis were attached to the project. That combination might have made for a very different film, but instead we get Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington, who at least have a bit of mutual form - their only previous film together was the excellent 2001 thriller, Training Day.

In that film, Mr Washington played a swaggering undercover cop who's gone to the dark side, but his performance here is altogether quieter, and more measured.

Despite being so extraordinarily handsome, Denzel Washington has always had a handy knack for playing Joe Soaps and everymen, and as The Equalizer opens that's exactly what he appears to be. Robert McCall lives alone in a modest Boston flat and works on the floor of a massive hardware megastore.

He keeps himself to himself, has no intimate relationships and spends most of his free time reading classic literature at an all-night neighbourhood diner. There he meets Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young street prostitute who dreams of being a singer but is in thrall to her Russian bosses.

READ: Time waits for no man - including Denzel Washington

McCall develops a certain paternal interest in Teri, and becomes concerned for her welfare after he sees her being slapped about in the street by her pimp. And when Teri winds up in hospital unconscious and badly beaten a couple of days later, McCall decides he can no longer stand aside. He goes to the club where the Russians hang out, and walks into the pimp's plush and gaudy office to offer him $10,000 if he'll let the girl go free.

Of course the Russians laugh in his face, but ought perhaps to have adopted a more mannerly approach, because McCall then quietly locks the door and lets them all have it.

He is, it then becomes apparent, a former CIA black ops type with a terrifying array of combat skills and an icy and clinical detachment to match them. He has turned his back on his old life to live a quiet and anonymous existence, but Teri is the catalyst who will plunge him, once more, into a spiralling cycle of violence.

When the bodies of the pimp and his associates are discovered, their Russian oligarch boss sends his most fearsome henchman to Boston to investigate. Teddy (Marton Csokas) clearly has something wrong with him, and does terrible things to practically everyone he meets as he searches for the mysterious avenger who has had the temerity to jeopardise his master's interests.

The scene is set for an epically bloody showdown, about which all I need say is that Mr McCall doesn't work in a hardware store by accident.

The violence comes thick and fast in the latter third of The Equalizer, and is definitely intended to be cartoonish, and tongue-in-cheek. Some of the baroque assaults are amusing, but Marton Csokas' eye-rolling villain strays a little too far over-the-top for my liking.

The best part of Antoine Fuqua's film is the quiet and nicely built opening third, when McCall tries to be a normal man and resist the urge to strike. And while one grows tired of describing how Denzel Washington has made an ordinary film more than watchable, he's at it again here. He's a magnificent actor, whatever the film, and The Equalizer's undeniable entertainment value is largely down to him.

WATCH: The Film Show: George Byrne has the lowdown on 'The Equalizer' and 'Maps to the Stars'

Irish Independent

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